Category Archives: Digital Archives

She Had a Dream: Ruth Batson & Equal Education in Boston

In August 1963, Ruth Batson, a community leader and activist from Roxbury, Massachusetts, joined over 200,000 Americans to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Ruth Batson's pennant from the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Image courtesy of Schlesinger LIbrary. Ruth Batson Papers, Schlesinger Library.
Ruth Batson’s pennant from the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Image courtesy of Schlesinger Library. Ruth Batson Papers, Schlesinger Library.

The watershed moment, one of the greatest demonstrations for civil rights in the US, culminated with marchers walking peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Batson, who had turned 42 shortly before the March on Washington, shared King’s vision. She had a dream, too. An activist for civil rights in Boston, Batson dreamed of equal education for African Americans in Boston Public Schools. She began working to make that dream a reality years before the March on Washington.

Ruth M. Batson working as a student teacher at Lenox St Housing Project Pre-School.
Ruth M. Batson working as a student teacher at Lenox St Housing Project Pre-School, ca. 1948. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.

In the late 1940s, as a student teacher of the Nursery Training School of Boston and as a young mother, she witnessed disparity in the public school system firsthand. That experience led her to become active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Boston. A decade before the March on Washington, she was appointed chairperson of the newly-established Public Education Sub-Committee. The experience transformed her. She recalled:

“From that day on, my life changed profoundly.  I learned how to sharpen my observation skills.  I learned how to write reports.  I learned how to stand before a legislative body and state the NAACP’s case.  I lost all fear of ‘important’ people or organizations.” 1)Ruth M. Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (Boston, MA: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001), 9.

Documenting the physical condition of the city’s public schools, she noted widespread separation of black and white children. She challenged the Boston School Committee to address de facto segregation and the inadequate facilities of schools attended primarily by blacks.

Committed to her dream of equal education, Batson became a leading force of METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) and she became increasingly active in politics. She became the first black woman to serve on the Democratic National Committee and the first woman elected president of NAACP’s New England Regional Conference (1957-1960). During that time, she volunteered in John F. Kennedy’s civil rights office and worked tirelessly for democratic campaigns on both local and national levels.

Governor Endicott Peabody adminiters the oath to Ruth M. Batson for her new appointment at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 1963. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.
Governor Endicott Peabody administers the oath to Ruth M. Batson for her new appointment at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 1963. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.

Recognized for her spirited nature and determination, in December 1963–just months after the March on Washington–Batson was appointed to serve as chairperson of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Ruth Batson advocated for civil rights and equal schooling for blacks in Boston for over thirty years. Committed to making her dream a reality, she helped reshape Boston’s public education system. Want to learn more about this extraordinary woman from Roxbury?

Graduate student Laurie Kearney created on online exhibit, “Ruth M. Batson, Mother, Educator, Civil Worker,” that provides a comprehensive overview of Batson’s life, volunteerism, and career. Using documents and photographs from the Boston City Archives, the National Archives at Boston, Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, and the Schlesinger Library, Kearney explores how the personal and political intersected in this woman’s life.

Kearney’s narrative explores how Batson’s upbringing and experiences as a mother led to a career of community and political activism. Learn more about Batson’s actions in the movement to integrate Boston Public Schools and her and role as a leader of METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) by visiting the full exhibit.

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References   [ + ]

1. Ruth M. Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (Boston, MA: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001), 9.


By: Corinne Zaczek Bermon

In 1974, a young boy named Kevin Tyler stepped off his bus on the first day of school.1)Name changed as request of former METCO student. As the Kevin looked out at the area surrounding his new school, he could only think that everything was foreign and weird. Although he was only ten miles from home, the Roxbury native thought that suburbia was another world. Gone were the noises from the street and common spaces and in their place were fences, private backyards, and white faces. Although it smelled cleaner, it wasn’t exactly pleasant to Kevin as the fresher air “felt weird to [his] nose.”  The white students around him sounded strange and bland when they spoke, not in the expressive style he were used to in Roxbury. But even on his first day of school, Kevin could see that life in the suburbs was easier, charmed even.2)Susan Eaton, The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 218-219.

Cover of the METCO information pamphlet.
Pamphlet for parents about the METCO program. Image courtesy Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

Many METCO students experienced a disconnect after they disembarked the buses that brought them to their suburban schools. Perhaps more profoundly than anyone, these young students saw the consequences of the deep racial and class divide that characterized Boston. The suburbs may be close geographically to the metropolitan area, but as Robert observed, they were worlds apart.

So how did students of color end up at schools in the suburbs? As we have passed the fortieth anniversary of busing for school desegregation, it is important to note, that voluntary busing existed before Morgan v. Hennigan mandated it, and still exists today as the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity or, as it is commonly know, METCO.

Even after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined that segregated education was inherently unequal and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, de facto segregation remained prevalent in both the northern and southern US schools. In 1967 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a pamphlet titled “Schools Can Be Desegregated,” which made several statements regarding segregated schools in the US:

  1. Racial isolation in the public schools is intense and is growing worse.
  2. Negro children suffer serious harm when they are educated in racially segregated schools, whatever the origin of that segregation. They do not achieve as well as other children; their aspirations are more restricted than those of other children; and they do not have as much confidence that they can influence their own futures.
  3. White children in all-white schools are also harmed and frequently are ill prepared to live in a world of people from diverse social, economic, and cultural background.3)U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Schools Can be Desegregated” (Washington, D.C.: Clearinghouse Publication No. 8, June 1967) 1.
A Bird's Eye View from Within-As We See It by the staff and board of Operation Exodus
“A Bird’s Eye View from Within – As We See It,” report on Operation Exodus, 1965. Image courtesy Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections. Full report online.

Faced with the unresponsive and all-white Boston School Committee’s stance towards de facto segregation in Boston schools, concerned parents and activists founded “Operation Exodus” through Roxbury’s Freedom House in 1965 as a voluntary way to desegregate Boston Public Schools. In its first year, 400 African American students from Roxbury and Dorchester were bused to the predominantly white, but under enrolled, Faneuil School in Back Bay. In 1966, Operation Exodus was renamed the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO). Immediately, Black students faced the problem of how to address race while part of an expressly integration-based program. As Susan Eaton, Ed.D., expert in racial and economic inequality in public education, discovered, “neither [black nor white students] talked to the other about race – the very thing that appeared to be separating them. As a result, race frequently felt to the black students like a family secret. To keep life going smoothly, everyone compliantly locked the race subject away. It was too potent to open, to delicate to touch.”4)Eaton, 81. The attitude towards race as a subject to be avoided in some ways reflected the outcry against METCO in the city.

The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, Inc. program created controversy in nearly every town to which it bused black urban students.

Photograph of black and white students sitting together in a classroom in Boston, circa 1973. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.

While some suburbanites welcomed the program as a way to expose their children to a more diverse group of classmates while also assisting underprivileged urban students, others did not focus on the ideological mission of METCO. Instead, they considered the financial costs of the program, the potential negative impact on schools, and the needs of their own children to be more important than minimally integrating their school systems. Others accused METCO of reverse racism for primarily busing African American students rather than poor white students. During the 1970s busing crisis within Boston, the program exposed divisions and resentments between suburbs and the city and within the suburbs themselves. Many began to question the value of integration as well as its effectiveness. With the potential costs to each town and to each taxpayer, residents of both the city and suburbs wondered, was the ideological goal of integration a worthwhile endeavor?

The online exhibit, “Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO): Solving Racial Imbalance in Boston Public Schools,” created by graduate students Kristin Harris (MA American Studies, 2015) and Corinne Zaczek Bermon (MA American Studies, 2015; MA History Archives Track, 2017) explores the founding of the organization and the effects it had as a voluntary busing program rather than the controversial “forced busing.”

Using the METCO collection at Northeastern University, Harris and Bermon combed through nearly 144 boxes to find the story of METCO. They hand selected documents that highlighted the difficulties METCO had in funding despite support from the Board of Education and how parents stayed involved in the program through parent councils to keep their children safe and in the program.

This exhibit tells the story of the other side of the busing crisis in 1974-1975. Despite the ongoing violence and intimidation happening in city schools such as South Boston High School and Charlestown High School, METCO students had been quietly and determinedly attended suburban schools through their own busing program. Their stories counteract the narrative that all student busing for desegregation was fraught with protests and violence. The METCO program today still serves as a model for the country as to how to racially balance schools.

Visit the full exhibit to read more about METCO’s beginning and see how parent councils were involved closely with the host schools.

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References   [ + ]

1. Name changed as request of former METCO student.
2. Susan Eaton, The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 218-219.
3. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Schools Can be Desegregated” (Washington, D.C.: Clearinghouse Publication No. 8, June 1967) 1.
4. Eaton, 81.

Caught in the Crossfire: Students’ Reactions to Busing in Boston

On December 11, 1974, Michael Faith, a 17-year old student at South Boston High School, was stabbed by an 18-year old African American student while walking in the corridor to his second period class.

Excerpt of police log on October 8, 1974, documenting violence reported at Boston Public Schools between 10:30 am and 12:35 pm.
Excerpt of police log on October 8, 1974, documenting violence reported at Boston Public Schools between 10:30 am and 12:35 pm. The report for the two-hour period totaled 8 pages. Image courtesy Boston City Archives.

Violence erupted and race-related attacks escalated in Boston’s public schools from the first week of court-ordered busing that September.

On a daily basis many African American students, teacher’s aids, and bus drivers were pelted with rocks and bottles, struck with bats, beaten with fists, and threatened, as this excerpt of a police log for a 2-hour period indicates.

All students In Boston Public Schools (BPS) were affected by the violent reactions to busing on some level. Those who weren’t assaulted physically often witnessed or heard about brutal attacks that occurred in their, or nearby, schools. Student absenteeism skyrocketed in many schools as a result. How did students react to the atmosphere of violence and fear during the years busing was used to desegregate BPS?

Letter from 3rd grade student to Mayor Kevin White, telling him he wants the violence between blacks and whites to stop. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.
Letter from 3rd grade student to Mayor Kevin White, telling him he wants the violence between blacks and whites to stop. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.

The online exhibit, “What About the Kids? A Look Into the Students’ Perspectives on School Desegregation,” created by Krystle Beaubrun (History, 2015) and Lauren Prescott* (Public History and Archives, 2016) explores opinions and reactions students had to what was commonly dubbed “forced busing” in Boston.

Using collections at Boston City Archives and UMass Boston’s Archives & Special Collections, Beaubrun and Prescott scoured hundreds of letters written to Kevin White–then mayor of Boston–and W. Arthur Garrity–the federal judge who ordered that schools be integrated through busing–by students.

Poem by young student to Mayor Kevin White. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.
Poem written by elementary school student to Mayor Kevin White in December, 1974–four months after Phase I (busing) of desegregating BPS was implemented. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.

They selected a sampling of letters written by students–in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools  in Boston and across on the country–sharing their unique reactions to busing as a way to desegregate BPS. Many younger students expressed confusion about the violence and prayed for its end. Some offered the adults suggestions on how to improve the situation.

Their exhibit captures the unique reasons high school juniors and seniors opposed “forced busing.” In heartfelt letters to officials, students described how busing about disrupted their place on sports teams, prevented them from partaking in traditions like senior prom, severed relationships they’d built with teachers, and prohibited them from graduating from the school system they’d attended their whole lives.

Despite the violence that erupted in schools during the early years of busing, Beaubrun and Prescott’s exhibit also documents how some black and white students joined together to counteract negativity. Responding to media coverage that generalized South Boston High School students as racists during the 1970s, students Michael Tierney and Danis Terris founded and launched MOSAIC in 1980.

An exhibit annoucement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of UMass Boston, University Archives & Special Collections.
An exhibit announcement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of UMass Boston, University Archives & Special Collections. Search or browse full-text issues here.

MOSAIC, a publication produced from 1980-1988, contained  autobiographical stories, photographs and poetry from students at South Boston High School. The University Archives & Special Collections at UMass Boston has digitized the full 11-issue run of MOSAIC. Search or browse full-text issues here.

Visit the full exhibit to read more reactions students had to busing.  Learn about how officials, clergy, and individuals around the  around the world reacted to Boston’s busing crisis in future posts.

*Shortly after graduating with her MA in history, Lauren became the Executive Director of the South End Historical Society. Congratulations, Lauren!


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Learning from the Clothes that Haverhill Wore: A Semester at the Haverhill Historical Society

By Rachel Sherman

During the Fall 2016 semester, I worked as an intern in both curatorship and collections management at the Haverhill Historical Society under Janice Williams. The Haverhill Historical Society serves as the historical center for the area of Greater Haverhill and the Merrimack Valley (Massachusetts). Occupying “The Buttonwoods” mansion originally bequeathed to the historical society in 1903, the Haverhill Historical Society collects and exhibits items relating to the area’s culture and history. These items once belonged to Haverhill residents and include numerous textiles ranging from quilts to costumes.

Figure 1: The John Ward House, owned by the Haverhill Historical Society. This house currently resides on the Buttonwoods Property. Picture taken by Rachel Sherman (2016).

From the beginning of my graduate career, I knew that I wanted to gain experience in a small historical institution like the Haverhill Historical Society. They needed the help. Now more than ever, historical societies need to be more organized, user friendly, and publicly accessible in order to stay relevant. Unfortunately, many of these organizations are run by small staff, infrequent volunteers, and the occasional intern. Despite this reality, the Haverhill Historical Society strives towards making themselves more accessible. This determination and dedication attracted me to intern at the Haverhill Historical Society.

My internship contributed the Haverhill Historical Society and their mission to modernize. They have been working on a ten-year long project to digitally catalog their collections, working to connect the items to Haverhill history. My job was to use their cataloging system, PastPerfect, to assess the condition of and digitally catalog a certain number of hanging costumes. I was also tasked with creating an informational “Intern’s Pick List.” The list includes costumes I felt were important to understanding Haverhill’s history and will be added to the Haverhill Historical Society’s website alongside the Curator’s Pick List.

Every historical institution, whether they are a small historical society or a large museum, has its own process for cataloging items; however, almost all institutions require the same general skills in approaching their items. From my experience, I present a small list of what I learned while interning at the Haverhill Historical Society.

Figure 3: Ninteenth century men’s robe, donated by the F.O. Raymond Estate. Fred O. Raymond Sr. lived and raised his family in Haverhill, serving as the Deputy Sheriff of Essex County from 1870 until his death in 1901. Object owned by the Haverhill Historical Society. Picture taken by Rachel Sherman (2016).

Always check the pockets: This is meant both figuratively and literally. During my investigation into a nineteenth century robe, I conducted my usual condition assessment, placed a new accession number tag, and proceeded to bring the costume back to its home. As I held the costume, I felt something in the left pocket I did not notice before. I carefully looked to see what was inside the pocket, and found a little envelope from the Haverhill Historical Society in the early twentieth century that also included written names. This fun little discovery helped me identify the history and the provenance of the robe. From

then on I checked every pocket I encountered. Look at every angle of what you are working on; you never know what you are going to find in the most obscure places. 

Dig a little deeper: Researching can lead someone down a rabbit hole, and through this internship I went down several! One such rabbit hole involved genealogical work. My first day of working with the collection, I cataloged a wedding dress belonging to an Augusta Merryman of Maine donated by a Mrs. Daniel Hunt of Haverhill. Curious about the relation between the two women, I turned to census records to see if the women shared a family. After working backwards through fifty years of census records, I connected the dots and found that Augusta Merryman (whose first name was actually Lydia) was Mrs. Daniel Hunt’s aunt. Therefore it helps to dig a little deeper into the records to find connections to the past.

Use every available resource: See everyone and everything as a resource. While cataloging a men’s suit, I came across the name William C. Glines. Upon researching the name, I quickly learned that Haverhill housed more than one William C. Glines. After a period of frustration, I decided to ask the curator for assistance. Meanwhile, Mary Ann, a fellow volunteer on the textile collection, overheard our conversation and chimed in about her own object. It turned out that not only did she know the Glines family, but that she finished working on an object donated by a William Cheney Glines, aka William C. Glines. From then on, Mary Ann continued to be a valuable resource for both understanding some of the Haverhill families I encountered in my research and in understanding fashion jargon.

Step outside of your comfort zone: Try something new. This internship allowed me to work hands-on with a collection that needed some TLC. From taking on a subject I knew little about, I learned not only collections management techniques, but also skills uncommon with a history-based internship. Through this internship, I learned basic sewing. Before, I could barely thread a needle, and now I can at least sew a label onto a costume. I advise anyone to step out of her comfort zone; you never know what you will learn.

Figure 2: Intern hard at work! Image taken by Janice Williams (2016).

Apply what you already know: This item should come to no surprise. While examining an early nineteenth century dress coat, the gilded brass buttons stood out among the navy blue wool exterior. Upon looking at the buttons, I noticed that each one featured a peculiar bald eagle. Although I do not know the history of buttons, I did know from previous undergraduate research that the eagle shared a similar motif to the furniture of the American Classical Style (1820s-1840s). This similarity aided in narrowing down the age of the buttons—the mid to late 1830s. It may seem silly, but I used my knowledge of aesthetics, compared buttons to furniture, and it paid off.

No matter your internship, whether it is working with a collection or other, the skills you learn from an internship apply to more than just the task at hand. From reading about my own experience, you, the reader, will hopefully gain a better understanding of what you may encounter on your own internship journey.


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Mapping Divisions & Historic Decisions: The Road to Desegregating Boston Public Schools

Political cartoon, 1954. Image courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Reproduction not permitted without prior permission, in writing, from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Political cartoon, 1954. Image courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Reproduction not permitted without prior permission, in writing, from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

On Valentine’s Day, 1974, the Boston School Committee received a crushing rejection. Its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal the Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act was denied on two grounds: the deadline to file had expired and the Committee’s appeal had “no substantial basis.”(1)

Established in 1965, the act empowered the state Board of Education to investigate and reduce racial inequality in public schools. Perhaps the strictest racial balance legislation among the states, the act defined racial imbalance as any school in which the number of nonwhites exceeded 50% of the total population. For nearly a decade, the Boston School Committee and the state Board of Education argued bitterly over the definition of racial imbalance and the means of implementing a more integrated public school system.

In 1972, the Massachusetts Board of Education accused the Boston School Committee of repeatedly refusing to institute any measures to integrate its schools, many of which were heavily segregated according to the act’s definition. After the state suspended funding to Boston Public Schools, the School Committee launched a series of legal battles to repeal the Racial Imbalance Act and recover state funding for city schools.

The NAACP also initiated legal action in the federal court system. It charged that, by not complying with the Racial Imbalance Act, the Boston School Committee violated the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the digital exhibit, “Busing Boston Bound: Phase I of Desegregation in Boston, Massachusetts,” Rebecca Carpenter, a graduate student in the Archives program,  explores the impact of the Morgan v. Hennigan decision.

Cover of booklet, "Make Congress Stop Bussing," [sic], by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the John Joseph Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.
Cover of booklet, “Make Congress Stop Bussing” [sic] by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.
 Using documents, maps, reports, and photographs from special collections and archives including Boston City Archives, the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, the National Archives, Boston, the Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University, and other repositories, Carpenter evaluates Phase I of desegregation. Beginning in September, 1974, the plan, which required that students in the most racially imbalanced schools be bused into schools where the number whites exceeded 50%, provoked heated and hostile reactions in some neighborhoods. The exhibit explores the motivations behind Garrity’s decision and assesses the initial plans for busing.

How did students react to Garrity’s decision to bus them away from their neighborhood schools? How did the decision, and the fear and violence it provoked in some schools, affect teachers? Learn more about the the impact busing had on public education in the next posts. For more background and details on the Racial Imbalance Act, see Connor Anderson’s digital exhibit, highlighted in the last post.


[1] Muriel Cohen, “Court Denies Balance Appeal Request.” Boston Globe (1960-1985) Feb 15 1974: 3. ProQuest. 13 Feb. 2017

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Divided Schools & Neighborhoods: Students Explore De Facto Segregation In Boston

“Turned Away from School,” Anti-Slavery Almanac, Boston, 1839.
“Turned Away from School,” Anti-Slavery Almanac, Boston, 1839. Similar to the black child in this image, Sarah Roberts was rejected from an all-white school in Boston in 1848.

On February 15, 1848, Sarah Roberts, a five-year-old African American girl, attempted to enter an all-white grammar school near her home. A white teacher rejected Sarah, based on the color of her skin. Sarah’s father, Benjamin F. Roberts, tried to enroll his daughter in four different schools attended by whites. All were close to their home while the schools designated for black children were located over a half mile away—a long walk for a young child, especially during the bitterly cold, snowy month.

Robert Morris, Esq. may have been the first black male lawyer to file a lawsuit in the U.S. He was also the first black lawyer to win a lawsuit
Robert Morris, Esq., was admitted into the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Two years later, he co-defended Sarah Roberts’ right to attend a public school closer to her home than the schools designated for blacks.

The General School Committee, the group responsible for administering the city’s public schools, rejected each request that Sarah attend a white school. That December, Benjamin Roberts sued the city for damages, on grounds that his daughter was unlawfully denied admission to a public school. Robert Morris, one of the first black lawyers in the US, worked with abolitionist lawyer and politician, Charles Sumner, to represent Sarah in Roberts v. City of Boston. The two argued that Massachusetts law guaranteed equal education regardless of race and that requiring black children to attend separate schools was unconstitutional.

Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts
Read the full text of Sumner’s, “Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts,” 1849 (above) courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Despite their impassioned arguments, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw found in favor of the city. Defending the actions of the General School Committee, Shaw ruled that a segregated school system did not violate the principle of equality before the law. His decision laid a foundation for the federal doctrine, “separate but equal,” that held that racial segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Five years after the Roberts’ decision, the state of Massachusetts made it illegal to segregate the city’s public schools according to race. Despite that decision, city schools remained heavily segregated through the twentieth century. “Back To Square One: Racial Imbalance in the Boston Public Schools,” an online exhibit designed and curated by Connor Anderson (Archives, 2017), highlights Boston’s long history of de facto segregation in public schools and the role the School Committee played in supported de facto segregation. In this type of system, blacks and whites were separated due to facts or circumstance. But, as the School Committee pointed out to critics, racial separation was not created or imposed by law.

Protest Flier from a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Louise Day Hicks, circa 1974.
Protest Flier from a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Louise Day Hicks, circa 1974. Courtesy Boston City Archives.

Using a sampling of correspondence, reports, and images from Boston City Archives and Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, he traces divided opinions surrounding the efforts to achieve racial balance in public schools in the 1960s.  Anderson illustrates how reactions to the Racial Imbalance Act split the city.

Boston Neighborhoods,” an exhibit created by Vini Maranan (General History, 2016) and Paul Fuller (Public History, 2015), explores the unique cultures, communities, and stereotypes surrounding six of Boston’s twelve neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, economic fluctuations, settlement patterns, and urban renewal programs in Boston reinforced ethnic associations and strengthened a separation of races in many working-class neighborhoods. The de facto segregation of neighborhoods affected the makeup of schools which had become heavily segregated. Maranan and Fuller’s exhibit uses letters and interviews of ordinary citizens to document conditions in schools by neighborhood. Their exhibit also traces neighborhood reactions to Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s ruling that de facto segregation was discriminatory. It examines a sampling of neighborhood reactions to the 1974 order that students be bused away from local schools to achieve a better integration of white and black students.

Learn more about about the implementation of “Phase I” to desegregate Boston Public Schools by busing students away from neighborhoods in the next post.



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Beyond Black & White: Exploring Black History Month

Poster publicizing Black History Month.
Poster publicizing Black History Month.

In 1976, former President Gerald Ford  officially designated February as Black History Month in the U.S. Part of its purpose involved expanding the national public school curriculum to include the history of black Americans who were omitted from traditional narratives. Despite that noble intent, sometimes, the tendency to showcase important individuals and events during Black History Month can oversimplify  complex historical figures and situations, diminish complicated struggles, and lead to a type of segregated history. In 2005, Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman called the idea of relegating black history to one month “ridiculous,” stating, in a TV news interview, “Black history is American history.” 

The narrative of African Americans’ experiences throughout Boston’s history is diverse and highly complicated. Graduate students in “Transforming Digital Archives and History”  have been exploring a critical and controversial time for African Americans and people of all colors and ethnicities in Boston: the desegregation of Boston Public Schools in 1974.

That year, federal judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that Boston’s public schools suffered from de facto (by fact) segregation and he mandated their immediate integration. Many citizens supported the idea of school integration, but protested the manner in which desegregation was implemented–by busing over 18,000 black and white students away from neighborhoods.  Leaders from both the black and white communities challenged the wisdom of busing students between overcrowded, similarly impoverished areas, like the predominantly black neighborhood of Roxbury and the Irish Catholic neighborhood of South Boston, and predicted the pairing would provoke intense fear, hostility, and violence. The decision unleashed a flood of rage and organized protests from both black and white parents for years. Some equated Boston to a war zone during this period, and both blacks and whites committed violent acts.

A number of compelling book and memoirs, including J.Anthony Lukas’s award-winning, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Familiesand videos have been published on the topic. Each sheds insight into how race, class, ethnic pride, the neighborhood loyalty affected the situation.

But what about the unpublished voices of everyday people? Working within various archives in the city, students are unearthing and reviewing thousands of emotionally-charged letters written to local, state, and federal officials by parents, students, teachers, clergy, activists, and community groups reacting to the decision.

Letter to Mayor Kevin White from an 11-year old student writing to Judge Arthur Garrity to criticize the judge's decision to implement busing as the means of desegregating Boston Public Schools.
Letter to Mayor Kevin White from an 11-year old student writing to Judge Arthur Garrity to criticize the judge’s decision to implement busing as the means of desegregating Boston Public Schools.  Courtesy Boston City Archives.

Despite the widespread protests and violent responses to busing, archived letters reveal that the reactions to busing defy easy categorization. Some letters, like that written to Boston’s mayor, Kevin White, by 11-year old student, favored integrated schools but criticized the decision to bus students to schools outside of their neighborhoods. To minimize turmoil, this child (whose name has been redacted) proposed that teachers be bused so kids could remain in their local schools; “maybe then there wouldn’t be any more stabing [sic] & fights.”

Others who opposed busing engaged in violent attacks.  In 1976–the same year Black History Month was instituted in the US–Joseph Rakes, a white teenager, lunged at Ted Landsmark, an African American lawyer and civil-rights activist, swinging a pole bearing an American flag. The attack, which occurred outside of Boston’s City Hall, was captured by Boston Herald photographer Stanley Forman.

"The Soiling of Old Glory," by Stanley Forman, 1976.
“The Soiling of Old Glory,” by Stanley Forman, 1976 (Copyright © Stanley Forman, 1976). Image reproduced here courtesy of Stanley Forman, as part of an exhibit in “Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston.” Further reproduction is prohibited without prior permission in writing from Stanley Forman.

Rakes’s attack on Landsmark escalated racial violence. Weeks later, two African American teenagers dragged Richard Poleet, a 34-year old white auto mechanic, from his car in Roxbury and beat him to death with paving stones. Community leaders of black and white neighborhoods alike accused the local media of biased and inaccurate reporting. Some criticized that media provoked retaliatory violence by broadcasting incidents of severe beatings and stabbings; at the same time, the local papers downplayed the terror many children faced in school each day.

Interested in learning more about the complicated reaction the decision to integrate Boston Public Schools? Each week over the course of Black History Month, we’ll share findings from online exhibits that graduate students in History at UMass Boston created about this tumultuous era. To learn more about the history of de facto segregation in Boston Public Schools, the link between adulterated meat products and civil rights in Boston, how students and teachers felt about busing, and how this issue transformed local mothers into outspoken activists and politicians, stay tuned!


Ronald P. Formisano. Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s. University of North Carolina Press (2nd Revised edition), 2004.

J. Anthony Lukas. Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. Vintage Books, 1986.

Michael Patrick MacDonald. All Souls:A Family Story from Southie. Beacon Press, 2007.

Ione Malloy. Southie Won’t Go: A Teacher’s Diary of the Desegregation of South Boston High School. University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Jim Vrabel. A People’s History of the New Boston. University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.

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Fighting Fire & Segregation: A Semester at the Boston City Archives

By: Connor Anderson

Officers from the Boston Police Department standing beside school buses. Photo from the 1975 Hyde Park High School yearbook.

I decided to complete my internship at the Boston City Archives (BCA) in West Roxbury thanks in part to the experience I had there during our Digital Archives class in spring 2016. In that class, we worked with Marta Crilly, the Archivist for Reference and Outreach, to create exhibits for the class’s Omeka site, “Stark and Subtle Divisions,” which explores the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools.

My internship included many small projects but, primarily, I focused on digitizing materials from the desegregation collections housed at the City Archives, and inputting metadata onto their digital repository, Preservica, for future use. This project builds upon the work of Lauren Prescott, a recently graduated student from our program.

I started off in September digitizing materials from the Mayor Kevin H. White records, specifically feedback notes from the various “coffee klatches” the Mayor held throughout the city. Some of these notes mentioned the residents’ concerns about the busing situation. I then moved onto some materials from the Louise Day Hicks papers and the Fran Johnnene collection, two ardent opponents of desegregation, or “forced busing,” as they dubbed it.

A map of neighborhood schools with accompanying geocodes found in the Louise Day Hicks papers.

The Louise Day Hicks material featured interesting content that Marta thought researchers would love.

I was really hoping that I would have the chance to scan images while at the BCA. I am familiar with digitizing still and moving images from my internship in the audiovisual archives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and I really enjoy working with that medium. So when I heard that there were some negatives in the Kevin H. White records that needed scanning, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. We encountered some setbacks and I ended up only scanning a few negatives. In hindsight, that’s good since there were many other projects for to do.

After working there a few weeks, Marta mentioned that some of the materials from the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire needed scanning.

In November 1942, Cocoanut Grove, a night club in Boston, caught fire. The blaze claimed the lives of almost 500 people making it the deadliest nightclub fire in the world at that time. The Boston City Archives has three collections which contain material about the fire: the Boston City Hospital collection, the Law Department records, and the William Arthur Reilly collection. The materials are fascinating, with items ranging from death certificates to samples of the fabric that caught ablaze (see below).

A sample of fabric that caught fire at the Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire.

This detour turned into one of my favorite projects of the semester, and I learned more about the privacy restrictions of some collections. The biggest issue we faced with this material involved HIPAA regulations that protect the privacy of medical records. After consulting with an attorney for the City of Boston, we were cleared to publish the names and other information about the victims online, because (long before HIPPA was enacted) the Boston Post had already published the names in a “List of Dead.”

A page from the Boston Post featuring names of the victims of the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire.

The materials in these collections reflect the fire’s immediate impact on the city and its long-lasting national legacy. For instance, the Boston City Hospital (BCH) records document procedures and treatments used on Cocoanut Grove fire victims. The approaches and practices used at BCH established a modern treatment of burn victims that hospitals across the country soon followed. The materials from the Law Department document the city’s creation of new safety and fire codes.  Many of the codes Boston created in response to Cocoanut Grove were later adopted nationwide.

After scanning materials related to the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire, I returned to desegregation, this time focusing on yearbooks. I focused on two high schools in neighborhoods which busing significantly affected: Charlestown High and Hyde Park. I soon found out, to my surprise, that Hyde Park High School already enrolled a number of non-white students before busing started in the Fall of 1974. Charlestown High School, on the other hand, enrolled very few non-white students prior to the Fall of 1974. This began a troubling trend of white Charlestown residents sending their children elsewhere for school.

A Hyde Park High School Senior sporting some groovy hair.

In total, I scanned twenty-three yearbooks between the two high schools. Needless to say, the fashion trends of the 1960s and 1970s puzzle me after going through the yearbooks.

MODS metadata
Some lovely metadata using a MODS template by yours truly.

For each object I scanned, I needed to complete the metadata on that object as well. In my internship, I created metadata that provided detailed information about the digitized content. Marta set up a Google spreadsheet to organize all of my metadata, which was a huge help since I scanned almost 350 objects. The metadata I was responsible for were–Title, Record Identifier, Date Created, Creator Name, City, Neighborhood, Description, Collection Name and Number, Location of Originals, Type, Language, Conditions Governing Access, Conditions Governing Reproductions, Library of Congress Subject Headings, Description Standard, Pages.

Thankfully, the Boston City Archives has a set of controlled vocabulary to help with the process. I also found that a lot of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, dates, creators, and locations could be repeated. Still, it took me around 15 hours to complete all of the metadata alone during my internship.

I benefited a lot from my semester at the Boston City Archives. I learned technical skills that I will use in my future career and also got a view of how a municipal archive operates. Some of these skills include redacting documents, digitizing documents, different metadata formats, and working with a digital repository. There are many more that I probably do not realize I acquired yet as well. I am excited to take the valuable experience and these skills with me as I begin my career! To read more details about my experiences each week, check out the class blog for internships: Archives In Turn: Interns in Archives.


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